If you’re looking for modern day football’s great leveller, forget the FA Cup – the winter transfer window does the job just fine. The idea of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang making a move to Arsenal, whether this month or in any other, previously seemed like the result of a particularly haphazard round of transfer window bingo. Well-supported club + big-name player + generous transfer fee = scurrilous rumour.
There are transfers, however, and then there are January transfers. What seems outlandish in a sober light can swiftly become possible with the right concoction of dispute, desperation and opportunity. After Borussia Dortmund’s latest disciplining of Aubameyang for acting out, with coach Peter Stöger excluding him from the squad on the cusp of Sunday’s Bundesliga match with Wolfsburg, it seems like the Gabonese striker’s situation might have reached the requisite ripeness on all sides.
There must be those at Dortmund who ask how it’s come to this with Aubameyang. He has largely been a smash hit since arriving at Signal Iduna Park in 2013, not just for the 141 goals he’s notched in 212 games, but for his joie de vivre and infectious personality. His smile has lit up the Bundesliga almost as much as his blistering pace, and one hopes the memories of his many great moments in yellow and black will ultimately outweigh a faux pas (or three) over the past 12 months.
Westfalen has seen the somersaults, the Batman and Robin routine with Marco Reus after scoring against bitter rivals Schalke and much more. There has been muttering in some quarters about his lack of proficiency in German after four-and-a-half years – in truth, there hasn’t really been an imperative to learn with Aubameyang already fluent in four languages – but his family settled well, and quickly, in Nord-Rhine Westphalia. He has shown his share of loyalty too, until recent misdemeanours.
The unconsummated acquiesce to his departure last summer, with player and club acknowledging it was probably time, appears to have left its mark. If Aubameyang felt he’d done all he could with Dortmund, there appeared to be a sense at the club that they’d never be able to sell him for more too. His focus has waned, even though the goal ratio of near to a goal per game has remained admirably high.
Still, being dropped for flouting team protocol twice in the space of two months isn’t a good look, especially when coupled with a game which – goals aside – lacks some of the all-round element that it did before. At 28 and characterised as a speed merchant the clock is ticking, and his developing reputation as a troublemaker – fairly or unfairly – is only making the hands move faster. With Dortmund losing patience, Aubameyang eager for a fresh challenge and Arsenal pressed to dampen pressure on the board with Alexis Sánchez on the way out, this could well be the right deal at the right moment.
The prospect of him working with Henrikh Mkhitaryan again, should the Armenian arrive as a makeweight in the Sánchez deal, is an enticing one. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, both truly citizens of the world, understand each other well on and off the pitch from their time together at Dortmund. Crucially, the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder has the sort of pace to be able to keep up with Aubameyang in counter-attacks. As a pair, they could transform the tempo with which Arsenal attack, in a league which has become increasingly about hitting opponents on the break.
Aubameyang, like Mkhitaryan, would be a signing for here and now rather than necessarily a building block in a long-term plan and in that respect, an archetypal piece of January business. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it wouldn’t be a good move. In front of goal, Aubameyang has reached a peak in the last season and a half. This was the man that beat Robert Lewandowski to the title of Bundesliga top scorer back in May, for goodness’ sake.
For all his recent brushes with the Dortmund brass, he is no more of a showman that needs to be indulged now and then than he was when he warmed up for a Ligue 1 match for Saint-Etienne wearing Swarovski-decorated boots – as Arsenal’s new head of scouting Sven Mislintat, who was a key proponent of bringing him to the Bundesliga from France, well knows.
Maybe, just maybe, this is a deal that would be good for all parties right now. It’s not often you can say that for a transfer – and far less so in January.